Shaw (Shaw-Graetz), Elizabeth (1920–92), artist and children's author, was born 4 May 1920 in the manager's residence above the Ulster Bank in York Street, Belfast, the second of two daughters (there were also two sons) of George William Shaw, bank manager, originally from Co. Leitrim, and Mary Rachel Shaw (née Magowan), a trained schoolteacher from Co. Fermanagh. Despite her father's name and origins in the west of Ireland, Elizabeth stated that he was not related to George Bernard Shaw (qv).
She was educated at Belfast Royal Academy from 1924 to 1933, in which year the family moved to Bedford, England. There she attended Bedford High School and from 1937 to 1939 she studied art at the Chelsea School of Art in London. In 1940–44 she was engaged in war service as a mechanic in the London telephone exchange. In 1944 she married the German exile René Graetz, a sculptor and painter, with whom she had a daughter, Anne, born in 1948, and a son, Patrick, born in 1950.
From 1944 till 1946 Elizabeth worked as a freelance graphic artist in London. In the latter year she and René moved to Berlin, settling first in the west of the city. After the currency reform of 1948, which signalled a clear division of the city, they moved to the village of Kleinmachnow outside Berlin, and later settled in the Pankow district of East Berlin. From 1946 she worked for a range of journals as well as the Aufbau publishing house, and from 1950 she was a caricaturist for Neues Deutschland, the communist party newspaper in the GDR. In 1958, at the request of Bertolt Brecht's widow, Helene Weigel, she illustrated a small volume of poetry and prose by Brecht, Gedichte und Geschichten, to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of his birth.
The first children's book written by her, which she also illustrated herself, was Der kleine Angsthase (‘The little scaredy-cat’), published in 1962. She wrote and illustrated another twenty-two children's books, including The little black sheep (1997), which was translated into Irish as An t-uan beag dubh (2004). In 1977 she was awarded a silver medal at the International Exhibition of Book Art in Leipzig, in 1981 the Käthe Kollwitz prize of the East German Academy of Arts, and in 1984 the Gutenberg prize of the city of Leipzig. In 1999 a primary school in Berlin-Pankow was renamed for her.
In 1990 her autobiography, Irish Berlin: wie ich nach Berlin kam (How I came to Berlin), was published in German translation, and it was reissued in 2000 simply as Wie ich nach Berlin kam. Shaw remained a British citizen, which gave her greater freedom to travel than most East German writers and artists. While she also retained a deep affection for Ireland, her spiritual home was the GDR, and, though her failure to take out East German citizenship indicates a degree of reservation about her adopted country, her political sympathies clearly lay with the socialist German state. Yet, despite her activity as a caricaturist in the 1950s, her work was not merely propagandist. Her children's literature is well crafted, and her illustrations have a lightness and sensitivity that appeals to children and adults alike. Her books are popular the world over and some of them continue to be published in many languages, including Irish and English.
Shaw died 27 June 1992 in Berlin after suffering several strokes. Her husband had died in 1974. Her ashes were cast into the Irish Sea, and a stone in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in Berlin commemorates her. Patrick Graetz maintains an archive of his parents’ work in the Berlin suburb of Schwanebeck-West and also a website: www.artshaw.com.